ATHENS, Ga. -- Aaron Murray finally ran out of the late-game magic that served No. 7 Georgia so well up until Saturday's 41-26 loss to No. 25 Missouri, as the Bulldogs quarterback's interceptions on his final two drives prevented Georgia from overcoming a big early deficit.
“Four turnovers. They had none, we had four, and you can't win ballgames when you turn the ball over four times,” said Murray, who was 25-for-45 for 290 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed two picks and had a fumble returned for a touchdown that put Mizzou up 28-10 in the second quarter. “I don't care who you're playing. It's just a recipe for disaster.”
Murray completed late touchdown passes that paved the way for Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC) to beat South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee in what has been the nation's most difficult schedule to this point. But two crucial turnovers in the first half -- Murray's lost fumble for a touchdown and freshman Brendan Douglas' fumble at the Missouri 6 -- allowed the Tigers to build the 18-point halftime lead over a Georgia team that was without many of its top offensive weapons.
Perhaps things might have been different if Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were in Georgia's backfield or if Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett or Justin Scott-Wesley was in at receiver. But the Bulldogs still outgained Missouri's explosive offense 454 yards to 375 even without those players and had trimmed the Tigers' lead to 28-26 after a furious third-quarter rally.
If healthy, Gurley -- who Georgia coach Mark Richt said has “a realistic shot” of playing next Saturday against Vanderbilt -- would have been the likely ball carrier on the play in which Douglas fumbled. But the other three turnovers were the responsibility of veteran regulars. The interceptions were both bad reads by Murray. His sack came after senior tight end Arthur Lynch allowed Shane Ray to beat his block and knock the ball away from Murray with a blindside hit before Michael Sam picked up the loose ball and ran in for the score.
“It's completely my fault," Lynch said. "You can't expect Aaron to hold that ball. It's a blindside [hit]. That's my fault 100 percent, and I feel bad I let my team down in that sense. But even then, we've got to be able to overcome mistakes, and I thought we did for the most part. Just at the end of the game, we ran out of a little bit of magic, and that's the unfortunate situation.”
The difference in the outcome was that Georgia's defense couldn't carry over its momentum into the fourth quarter -- even after Missouri quarterback James Franklin left the game with a shoulder injury -- and the Bulldogs committed two more turnovers in the final period, ending any hope of another dramatic Georgia victory.
“I'm not going to sit here and start talking about if we'd had this or that,” Richt said. “That's football. Everybody has injuries. We had injuries; other teams do too. Their quarterback went out when the game was a two-point game. They found a way to win.”
And the Tigers did it with backup quarterback Maty Mauk coming on to lead a pair of late touchdown drives that secured the victory. Up 28-26 early in the fourth quarter, Missouri (6-0, 2-0) was facing a third-and-6 at its 45-yard line when Franklin left the game.
Georgia's defense had an opportunity to halt the Tigers' drive but allowed Mauk to slip away with a 6-yard scramble for a huge first down at midfield. Two plays later, Tigers receiver Bud Sasser hit L'Damian Washington -- who made a leaping catch over freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins -- with a 40-yard touchdown off a double pass.
“You had a chance on third down to get [Mauk] and they run him and we don't finish him off on the tackle and the guy gets it, and the next play is an explosive play,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
That series ruined what had been an enormous turnaround by Grantham's defense in the second half. The Bulldogs surrendered touchdowns on three straight Tigers possessions before halftime, and it looked like Missouri might win a blowout when it led 28-10 at halftime. But Georgia allowed just 35 yards in the third quarter and forced Missouri to punt all three times it had the ball in the period.
Murray and the offense used those opportunities to trim the lead to 28-26 after he hit Chris Conley with a 10-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. Even when Conley dropped the two-point pass that would have tied the score, the Bulldogs had seemingly gained the upper hand before allowing Missouri to convert the two big third downs that kept alive the ensuing touchdown drive that ended with Washington's touchdown grab.
"One negative play here or there that's an explosive play can eliminate a lot of good plays," Grantham said.
With their résumé already full of last-minute heroics, the Bulldogs believed they were still in it even when Mizzou pushed its lead back to eight. They were still down eight when the defense forced a punt, giving the ball to Murray and the offense with 4:25 left.
Only Murray didn't deliver this time. Randy Ponder intercepted a first-down pass and returned it to the Georgia 33, setting up another short touchdown drive that put the Tigers up 41-26.
“We're thinking we're in position to win the game, we're going to drive the field, score, score the two, overtime, who knows,” Richt said. “Yeah, we're absolutely thinking, 'Here we go again. We've got a chance to do it.' And to their credit, they made a play.”
They threw open the SEC East race in the process.